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‘Padmanabhapuram’ – God’s Own City

Some kings are warriors, like lions riding into the battle, making the enemy tremble with fear just by their presence. They are dangerous, but even more dangerous are kings who fight with their minds. The tacticians. They stay behind the curtains and move their pawns one step at a time, always keeping an eye on the big picture. King Marthanda Varma was of the latter kind.

Fate had never been kind to Marthanda Varma, but kings like him controlled their own fate. He was born into the last surviving house of the legendary Chera dynasty. Once among the three great kingdoms of South India, his family now ruled over a tiny kingdom stretching from modern day Kanyakumari to Trivandrum. Even in their kingdom, the king’s title was nominal. He had no army under him. The real power belonged to the madampis, the court nobles and the ettara yogam, the managers of the Padmanabhaswamy temple.

When Marthanda Varma came into the picture, the political and social situation in the kingdom was at the verge of collapse. The heir of the throne according to the matriarchal Travancore system, he had to kill his cousins, who tried to usurp the throne from him. Problems, both internal and external, haunted the king as he sat on his wooden throne at Padmanabhapuram, the city of the god. Even though he wore the crown, the Ettuveetil Pillaimar, the Lords of the Eight Houses, were the true rulers of the land. The Eight Lords had supported the claims of his cousins over the crown and Marthanda Varma had an axe to grind with them for that.The other Kingdoms of Kerala were falling in quick succession to the European powers. The Portugese had taken over Calicut and Cochin was under the Dutch. The spice trade of Kerala was attracting other European powers like flies on a jaggery. The shrewd king wasn’t going to sit around and watch.

The king signed a peace treaty with the rulers of Madurai and the British. The Eight Lords were enraged by the move and hired assassins to kill the king. The king barely escaped with his life. The murder attempt gave the king a golden opportunity. He had the Eight Lords either killed or exiled for treason and took over their property and armies. This move prompted many of the nobles to call for the nonrecognition of Marthanda Varma‘s kingship. Every other person in the kingdom was putting forward their stakes for the crown. In the face of mutiny among his ranks and advancing Foreign powers, the king played a masterstroke. He walked into the Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram and crowned the god as the king of the state. He took upon the title of Padmanabhadasa, the slave of the god, a steward who would rule the kingdom in the god’s name. The temple and its management came directly under the Padmanabhadasa. With that one swift stone, the king killed many birds. The king’s relatives who were putting forward their stakes for the crown found themselves competing against a god for the crown and backed down. The temple management which was proving to be a thorn in the king’s flesh was abolished. The temple guards provided an added boost to his army. Kerala is even today known as “God’s own country” because of Marthanda Varma’s coronation of Padmanabhaswamy.

With the internal problems settled, the King turned his eye outwards. He annexed the nearby kingdoms of Kollam and Kottarakara. He then turned his eye towards the kingdom of Kayamkulam. Kayamkulam was under the protectorate of the Dutch. The Dutch ambassador warned Marthanda Varma to leave Kayamkulam alone or the Dutch would annex Travancore. The angry Varma threatened to take his army to Europe and annex Holland if the Dutch interfered in their affairs.

With diplomacy failing, the king prepared for war. The Dutch navy approached the Travancore shores at a fishing hamlet called Colachel. The king made the fishermen from the village to hold their oars and stand on the shore. The Dutch Navy thought they were soldiers and got confused. In a short and swift battle, the Travancore army overhauled the Dutch. The Dutch admiral laid his arms in front of the king and was taken prisoner. For the first time in the Indian history, an Indian king had kicked an European power in its coccyx. Kayamkulam fell to Travancore and all land south of Cochin came under Marthanda Varma. With the fall of the Dutch, the entire black pepper trade was came under the control of the Travancore kingdom.

Marthanda Varma was too clever to be lulled into a false sense of security after his victory over the Dutch. He knew there were other European powers, waiting for him to make a false move. He set the Dutch admiral – Eustachius de Lennoy free and appointed him as the General of his army. The Dutch admiral, in gratitude for the kindness, took up the post. The Dutch General modernized the Travancore army. The king moved his capital from Padmanabhapuram to Thiruvananthapuram. He signed a treaty with the British, which kept the kingdom safe from the British crown till it seceded to the Indian Union in 1947.

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(The Surrender of the Dutch East India Company)

Colachel, the site of the famous battle between the Travancore army and the Dutch is now a small fishing hamlet. It is hard to imagine that the historically significant battle was fought there, among the fishing nets and boats. The only sign of the battle is a victory column, with the Travancore emblem of a conch with two wings on top, stating that Eustachius de Lennoy had laid his arms at Padmanabhadasa Marthanda Varma’s feet at that spot.

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(The Victory Pillar at Colachel)

Padmanabhapuram, ‘The city of the god’ is now a small village on the Trivandrum-Kanyakumari highway. The king’s palace still stands tall in a forgotten majesty.The Padmanabhapuram palace is open to public and is located at Thuckalay. Though the town is now a part of Tamil Nadu, the palace and its complex is under Kerala. The palace is a perfect example of kerala architecture and wood work.

The Gowdiar palace at Trivandrum is closed to the public as the desendants of the Travancore royal family still live there.

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(The Padmanabhapuram Palace)

The Udayagiri fort is situated 1 km away from the Padmanabhapuram palace and used to be the garrison for the Travancore army. It is now under the Forest department and has a small zoo inside it. The tomb of Eustachious de Lennoy is also inside the Udayagiri Fort.

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(Eustachius de Lennoy’s tomb)

The Padmanabhaswamy temple is in the heart of Trivandrum. It was recently declared the wealthiest place of worship in the world after a treasure chamber was rediscovered under it. The royal family still bears the title ‘Padmanabhadasa‘ and runs the temple trust.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2013 in Kerala, Tamil Nadu

 

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‘Gangaikonda Cholapuram’ – The City of the Chola who brought the Ganges.

King Rajendra Chola – I sat on the Chola throne for the first time as Yuvaraja, the crown prince, under his father’s rule. He inherited a mighty empire from his father, King Rajaraja Chola – I. Along with the empire, he also inherited his father’s wars. The Chola empire was plagued by wars and rebellions. In the North, they were at war with Kalingas, the Western Chalukas and the Eastern Chalukas. In the South, their arch-enemies, the Pandayas were turning out to be a splinter in the throne. Even in Lanka, which his father had recently occupied, the Sinhalese king was fighting for his freedom. The yuvaraja rose up to the challenge. He took command of he Chola Army. The Chola Army crushed all the rebels under his leadership. The Chola flag, a pouncing tiger, fluttered in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kalinga and Lanka.

When the yuvaraja wore the Chola crown in 1014 AD, he was the ruler over the entire Deccan. His navy held the Islands of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. In his treasure chambers were the crowns of the Pandayas and the Sinhalese. The young Chola king was not satisfied. The minstrels sang of his father, Rajaraja Chola, and called him the greatest Chola king. The Chola Temple in Thanjavur was a testament to his greatness. But Rajendra Chola had different plans. Plans to overshadow even his late father’s glory.

The river Cauvery was the Chola lifeline. It flowed through the heart of their empire, through their capital, the city of Thanjavur. The Temple that his father built towered high over the city skyline. Priests, ministers and bureaucrats walked hurriedly through the wide streets of Thanjavur, going about their business. The city was his father’s pet project. The Chola port, Kaveripattinam, was situated at the mouths of the river Cauvery. It brought merchants from all over the world. Fair skinned Romans, bearded Arabs and diminutive Chinese strolled on the dusty the streets, selling their merchandise. Trade flourished under the Cholas. The Chola Empire was at peace. But the young Chola king grew restless. He wanted more. He wanted the holiest of all rivers. The Ganges.

He set his eyes North. The king himself lead the army. Under king Rajendra Chola and his General Araiyan Rajarajan, the Chola army laid waste to the land. The Kalingas, the Vengi and the Odda kingdom fell before the Chola might. The only the Pala kingdom stood between the Chola and the Ganges. In one of the bloodiest wars of that time, Rajendra Chola‘s army defeated the Palas and king Mahipala lay his crown at the young king’s feet. Rajendra Chola, tired from the battle, walked into the river Ganges. The current was strong but the Chola was not bothered. He cupped his hands poured the water of the Ganges as a sacrifice to Lord Shiva, his protector. He took on the title – ‘Gangaikonda Chola’, the Chola who brought the Ganges.

With the Ganges under him, Rajendra Chola looked east. He had heard tales from the merchants of Kaveripattinam of vast lands over the sea, filled with riches. He strengthened his Navy and sent it on a expedition to conquer the lands of the east. The Chola Navy did not disappoint their king. They proved to be the strongest naval force in the Indian Ocean. The kings of Burma, Indo-China, Malay Penisula and the Indonesian Archipelago accpeted the Chola’s as their overloads tribute to King Rajendra Chola, under the glooming naval threat. All land around the Bay of Bengal belonged to the Cholas. During Rajendra Chola‘s rule, the Bay of Bengal was called ‘The Chola Lake‘.

At the height of Rajendra Chola’s power, The Chola Empire held its sway over the Deccan, Bengal, Burma, Indo-China, Malay Penisula, Singapore, Andaman-Nicobar Islands, Lakhsadeep Islands, Maldives and Srilanka, making it one of the largest empires to ever rule India.

(Chola Empire under Rajendra Chola-I)

After defeating the Pala kingdom, King Rajendra Chola came back south, bringing with him water from the Ganges. He built a new city and called it ‘Gangaikonda Cholapuram’ – The city of the Chola who brought the Ganges. He built a Shiva temple in the city, rivaling the one his father built in Thanjavur. He built a 22 km wide artificial lake near the city. He shifted the Chola capital from Thanjavur.

He named his son, Rajadhiraja Chola, as yuvaraaj and sat back on his throne, listening to the minstrel sing of his deeds.

The glory of Rajendra Chola’s city, Gangaikonda Cholapuram is now all but lost. The once mighty Chola capital is now a small village situated on the highway between Neyveli and Kumbakonam. Local people now call the place Jayakondam. The Royal palace, the city buildings are all one with the dust. The only proof that the place was once the capital of one of the might Chola Empire are the Shiva temple and the Lion well.

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(Shiva Temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram)

(The Lion Well)

The Shiva temple is built along the lines of the one in Thanjavur. One of the most beautiful sculptures adoring the wall is the one of Shiva placing a crown on the Kings head. Clean lawns surround the temple premises. The place is now a world heritage site and thankfully the city of one of the greatest kings of India is not completely lost in the tides of time.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2013 in Tamil Nadu

 

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